‘Every soldier who fought at Kargil deserves Vir Chakra’

Colonel Gautam Khot receives Vir Chakra

He was the first pilot of the Army Aviation to have landed at Tololing, the first victory of the Indian Army in the Kargil conflict of 1999. Flying a Cheetah helicopter on a terrain that made no suitable landscape for an airfield or a helipad, Colonel (Retd) Gautam Khot, VRC, then Major Khot, landed his chopper at Tololing just to carry six bodies of soldiers who laid down their lives fighting a battle that had ended previous night.

For his act of bravery that involved flying for over 100 hours saving the lives of his comrades and delivering ammunition and essential loads despite heavy enemy shelling to the troops engaged, Col Khot was awarded Vir Chakra by the President in November 2000. Colonel Khot is the only Maharashtrian to have been honoured with Vir Chakra for bravery in Kargil war.

"I was lucky to be a part of the Kargil battle. Our unit — 23 Recce and Observation Flight (R&O) — was stationed in Bareily and when the conflict broke, we were ordered to move to Srinagar on June 6. By June 11, we were fully into action, supporting the mountain division engaged in the conflict in Mushkoh valley, Drass sector. Our role was supply of ammunition till the time the battle was on," said Colonel Khot, who was commissioned into the 129 Air Defence Regiment of the Indian Army on June 11, 1988, and joined Army Aviation four years later. An alumnus of the 72nd course of the National Defence Academy, Khot, originally from Mumbai took voluntary retirement from the Indian Army, incidentally on June 11 in 2010, exactly 22 years after his commissioning.

Recalling the day in Operation Vijay in the historic Battle of Tololing, Colonel Khot said, "It was early in the morning and though, we had already marked out first victory at Tololing in the night, the enemy fire was still on. At an altitude above 15,000 feet, where surviving is a challenge in itself, my chopper was the first one to land. Facing the tough weather conditions, I landed on Tololing top evacuating six casualties that laid their lives the earlier night fighting for the country. Even today, when I think of the day or the conflict at Kargil, my mind is filled with the memories of sacrifices made by the soldiers."

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